Barry Monahan reviews Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s politically charged No End; the first in a new series of international film reviews.
Widely regarded as a cult classic for three decades, No End was only made available outside of Poland in the mid-nineties.
Ulla, a Polish translator living in post-solidarity era Warsaw tries to come to terms with the sudden death of her husband, Antek a lawyer. One of Antek’s clients contacts her shortly after his death regarding her husband’s case. Charged with political insubordination for a work strike and in custody, his mission to sacrifice possible acquittal for moral and political beliefs falls short of ideal. Ulla puts the client in touch with Antek’s mentor, an ageing expert who reluctantly takes the case. With a background in the Communist era justice system he pleads with him to take the easy route. As Ulla tries to make sense of her life and raise a son alone, she becomes involved in the case, all the while haunted by memories of her husband.
With superb performances from Gra?yna Szapolowska as Ulla and veteran Alexsander Bardini, Kieslowski’s direction lacks poise on occasion in order to covey context. What compensates is his exceptional ability to place a magnifying glass on despair and lost hope. Composer and long-time collaborator of later works, most notably the Three Colours trilogy, Zbigniew Preisner provides a sparse and angular score that demands your ear. As with most of the director’s works, Preisner’s score is referenced here by Ulla’s son as he practices piano.
Political stories told from the stance of the political classes of the era may leave a lot to be desire, but the narrative here is gelled together by conflict from top to bottom. This exceptional work manages to sustain itself until its bitter finale.